The Worst Songs We Heard in 2017
The past year sucked for more important reasons than oblivious white rappers, tedious dance bros, and jingoistic country stars. Still, the following musicians made things worse. These are our least favorite songs of 2017.
Post Malone — “Rockstar”
Plenty of rappers have claimed the mantle of rock stardom in the decades since Run DMC. All of the recent ones–Rae Sremmurd in the “Black Beatles” video, Lil Wayne in guitar-slinging mode on Rebirth, hell, even Shop Boyz and Chamillionaire–are more deserving than Post Malone. Songs like “Party Like a Rock Star” were odes to celebrity and hedonism, but also carried a more subversive intent: They celebrated the ascent of black artists via hip-hop to the kind of popular prominence that allows you to tour in private jets and trash hotel penthouses with impunity, which had largely been cut off to them during the heights of arena-rock excess.
A doofy longhaired white guy like Post, on the other hand, would have no problem fitting in with the likes of Bret Michaels and Vince Neil. His rote “Rockstar” is full of joyless references to women and liquor, and much like a turgid Poison ballad, it is devoid of anything resembling fun or a memorable melody. Despite his status as one of rap’s relatively new faces, Post Malone’s biggest hit yet has the dull gloominess of a Behind the Music retrospective. It skips right over the anarchic fun of stardom and heads straight to the end: a hollowed-out party where the music’s still bumping but only a single dude in heinous streetwear remains on the dancefloor. You’re tempted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him it’s time to pack it in for the night, but you have a nasty feeling in your stomach that he’s only getting started. — ANDY CUSH
The Chainsmokers & Coldplay — “Something Just Like This”
In a year of bad-faith arguments, directing scorn at the cosmic speck represented by a collaboration between the Chainsmokers and Coldplay feels futile. But “Something Just Like This” is an insistent and richly deserving paean to mediocrity, a processed music product that must call on the “books of old,” like Spider-Man, because it has no story to tell. In their tireless quest to access new depths of the common denominator, Coldplay have encountered the Chainsmokers, and having determined that Coldplay’s own music was not yet optimized to extract maximum neo-nostalgic activation value from Chris Martin’s voice, the Chainsmokers have improved on it. The result is exactly the sum of its parts, a soggy cheese sandwich, a Fyre Fest catering of male pop, risible not because it isn’t edible but because it is so endlessly disappointing. There’s a part at the end where they put a pathetic little guitar solo over the synths, and the plastic anodyne band and the sunglasses jerks are together at last. — ANNA GACA
Keith Urban — “Female”
To be fair to Keith Urban, he did not personally write “Female,” the rare song to combine a tip-of-the-fedora m’lady ick factor with the heartfelt sentimentality of a Pinterest quote with the viral potential of a three-year-old Dove ad. He did, however, sing this saccharine ballad supposedly inspired by the misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein, and introduce it to the world with a hackneyed testimonial about being a father of daughters. Where, indeed, would society be without a unique blend of reverence and condescension for those who identify as a “sister, shoulder,” “daughter, lover,” or “Virgin Mary, scarlet letter”? Consider this a song-length reminder that no matter how pure the intentions, using the word “female” as a synonym for “human woman” makes you sound like a creep. — ANNA GACA
Eminem — “Like Home”
For as angry as Eminem sounds on his Donald Trump diss track “Like Home,” the song’s message is oddly optimistic. The 45-year-old rapper believes the president’s impeachment is imminent, that his vulgarity will unite us “like Johnny,” that things are looking up “like a dictionary,” and that without Trump in charge, Americans can be proud of their country again. Eminem briefly dips into the second person to direct vitriol at Trump—whom he calls a “canary,” “chump,” “Nazi,” “bigot,” and “punk,” with his fist shaking, best believe it—but most of the song is a locker room speech disguised as a rant. Alicia Keys’ conscripted first-person plural hook, duct-taped onto the worst drums of Just Blaze’s career, nails home the myopic kumbaya: “Here’s to where we all began.” On the bridge, Keys shouts out fallen soldiers. Because what will really get under Trump’s skin is… chauvinism?
Ultimately Eminem’s spirited attempt to condemn the white supremacist in charge reveals the rapper himself to be a patriotic blowhard. He thinks Republicans are better than Trump and that “there’s no place like home.” He thinks this song is “Empire State of Mind” with a dose of truth bombs, a cloying enough formula, but it’s “The Star Spangled Banner” with curse words and suntan jokes. You can imagine an American flag blanketing the grand piano, played by whoever scores animal cruelty commercials. At least someone found some silver lining in 2017. — TOSTEN BURKS
Ed Sheeran — “Shape of You”
In a documentary for The New York Times about the making of “Shape of You”, producer Steve Mac puts it bluntly: “If we went in to the session writing a song for Ed Sheeran, I don’t think we’d ever have recorded ‘Shape of You.’” Listening to Sheeran play verbal hop-scotch over the faux-marimba rhythm of “Shape of You,” one can’t help but wonder if Mac’s first instincts were correct. In a vacuum, the song is a harmless ditty about dancing and fucking. But a song that has been slowly beaten to death by top 40 radio for an entire year begs closer inspection.
If it seems a little strange that Sheeran momentarily abandoned his mawkish ballads to dabble in pop’s recent obsession with dancehall, it’s because “Shape of You” Sheeran and his songwriters originally imagined the song as going to a singer who could capably handle it—someone like Rihanna. Knowing this backstory, it is now nearly impossible to hear “Shape of You” and not immediately think about how much sexier, evocative, and just damn cooler it could have been with someone like that at the wheel. At the same time, it makes perfect sense that Ed didn’t offer her a track that could objectively be called “airport reggae.” Reimagined as a Rihanna joint, lyrics about grinding and taking shots seem more at home, while quirky details about playing Van Morrison and stealing food from at an all-you-can-eat buffet read as absolutely bizarre. As it is, the song exists in a weird Sheeran-Fenty purgatory, in which, one imagines, all the quasi-R&B songs written by pale white boys find their final resting place. — ARIELLE GORDON
Arcade Fire – “Chemistry”
Some bad songs function like wallpaper; some trigger specific unhappy memories. Others are so monolithically, awe-inspiringly bad that they inspire a stand-alone intellectual interest—a deeper philosophical curiosity. These songs invite you return to them over and over, as though there might be some answers to the mysteries of existence embedded in their morbid anatomy. “Chemistry,” a track from Arcade Fire’s… polarizing album Everything Now is this kind of bad song. The jittery, trash-compacted quality of the production recalls pop anomalies of the 1970s; primarily, I hear David Essex’s terrible 1973 James Dean/‘50s rock’n’roll tribute anthem “Rock On” in “Chemistry”’s blues-adjacent verse and boxy, flanged production. Just when you think you’ve got some sense of what’s going on, Arcade Fire interpolate a godless second chorus of sorts, distinguished by flat shards of electric guitar imported from “The Stroke,” or, generously, “Jack and Diane.” To summarize before truly getting started: Listening to this song is like being locked in a room forced to power through lumpy lines of coke with a mulleted Paul McCartney while being repeatedly bonked on the head with a bit of PVC pipe.
The added layer of embarrassment here is that it seems like the Arcade Fire, who I recall once being a normal sort of band, may have meant the song as a kind of parodic provocation. There’s a bit that goes: “Go to the city, go to the store / Ask for a loan from another bank / Call your mother, make an excuse / I’m gonna have you baby it’s no use.” The fact that Win Butler—distractingly self-serious no matter how many Clickhole videos he does—seems to be implicitly indicting the willful and greedy narrator of the song makes one worry that the nauseated musical accompaniment is intended as a kind of dramatic device: horrible music befitting a horrible person who is complicit in a horrible, capitalistic dystopia.
Maybe “Chemistry,” and much of Everything Now, is supposed to inspire the potent, revulsed effect one might feel after watching Funny Games, A Serbian Film, or several later Saw sequels in one sitting. In that sense, it’s pretty effective. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to look back on the brazen vision of “Chemistry” fondly, as an interesting misfire or cult curiosity. My kingdom for a time machine! — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
Taylor Swift – “Look What You Made Me Do”
Taylor Swift was always going to sell a million records, yet as an opening statement, “Look What You Made Me Do” certainly didn’t do her any favors. After the tense buildup surrounding the eventual announcement of her sixth studio album Reputation, the single was a final reminder to never mistake Swift for being subtle, as theatric drums and keyboards make way for a strong contender for least-inspired chorus of the year. Beyond its tone-deaf “made-me-do” victimization ostensibly aimed at Kanye West, the hook’s deadpan delivery distorts the playful camp of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” into something limp and lifeless, sucking the air out of a hit barely palatable to begin with.
Even on paper, a thematic mashup between Yeezus and Right Said Fred doesn’t exactly sound like a formula for success, but handled by someone else it could’ve been bad in a way that at least felt open to even the slightest sliver of ironic interpretation. Not for Taylor, who is genuinely committed to hashing out petty drama in minute-long jumbotron rejections that only grow weaker and weaker with every listen. — ROB ARCAND
Khalid — “Young Dumb & Broke”
2017 was the year that Khalid, a previously unknown singer from El Paso, was anointed the voice of a generation, and it’s not like he wasn’t asking for it. His debut album, released in March, is titled American Teen, and along with the title track features another song called “8TEEN.” It proved to be very popular indeed, coming in at No. 14 on Billboard’s tabulation of the most listened to albums of the year, thanks in large part, one assumes, to the kids it so yearns to speak for. No less an authority than Robert Christgau—a senior citizen now, but play along—hailed the record as “astonishing” in its “clarity and candor.”
If you can find any of those things in “Young Dumb & Broke,” American Teen’s most enduring single, please hit me on WhatsApp. The song rests almost completely on a lilting repetition of its title, filling the spaces where you might expect to find, well, clarity and/or candor with cliched sloganeering. Padded out by equally short and vapid verses delivered in an elongated warble, “Young Dumb & Broke” is the most pro forma millennial pop I could imagine being packaged and sold to me as such. Contrary to the positioning of Khalid as the avatar of our nation’s youth, “Young Dumb & Broke” instead comes off like the song a group of adults might write for a character playing that person in a movie. Alas, nearing 30 years old, my opinion on this doesn’t really matter, though I can rest easy knowing that some portion of the American teens who see themselves reflected in this nothingness will, like the rest of us, one day feel foolish about much the stuff they once thought was good. — JORDAN SARGENT
Neal McCoy — “Take a Knee … My Ass (I Won’t Take A Knee)”
“Take a Knee … My Ass (I Won’t Take A Knee)” is one of those rare songs you’re justified in hating before you even hear it–if you even bother to hear it. Aside from the cynical opportunism employed by a country singer using an intellectually dishonest premise in order to pander to his fanbase, the title itself is a logistical nightmare. Does Neal McCoy’s knee double as his ass? Is “my ass” the affectionate nickname for the person to whom this song is dedicated? Did McCoy actually write this song about his own ass? Once you actually figure out what McCoy is saying in this dog whistle of a title, the payoff is, well, underwhelming.
You don’t have to be Stephen Sondheim to know that if you have to add a parenthetical to explain the song’s title, maybe it’s time to scrap the whole thing and start over. Or just stop. — MAGGIE SEROTA
Katy Perry – “Bon Appétit”
Katy Perry has never been averse to explicitly mixing food and sexuality in her lyrics and videos, but she may have dipped into that well one too many times with “Bon Appétit.” Unlike previous, more successful versions of this concept like “Birthday” and “California Gurls,” “Bon Appétit” isn’t catchy enough to distract from the heavy handedness of the deluge of double entendres that make up the lyrics. Since the melody isn’t particularly memorable or even annoying enough to get stuck in your head, you’re left with an uninspired song with lazy references to low blood sugar, buffet spreads, and both sweet potato and cherry pie. Not even Migos showing up two-thirds of the way through was enough to save this track from itself. — JORDAN FREIMAN
Portugal. The Man — “Feel It Still”
What is Portgual. The Man’s John Gourley saying anyway in “Feel It Still”? The Genius lyric page for the band’s runaway hit doesn’t make the mondegreen-loaded track much clearer: the band attempts to tackle world peace, the futures of their daughters, and rebelling “just for kicks.” But it’s all a clumsily wild grab for whatever seems marginally topical to the title of their recent album Woodstock. Beyond the Mad Libs lyrics, the song’s musicality leaves a lot to be desired. For its inescapability, the track is startlingly forgettable except for the part that blatantly rips off “Please Mr. Postman.” This is how rock makes it Top 40 reemergence: not with a bang, but with a whimpery mumble that sounds like it was made specifically for a car commercial. God, I hate this song. — MONIQUE MELENDEZ
Pink — “What About Us”
A few years ago, when I was working in a hotel in TriBeCa, I helped Pink arrange a livery cab for her family to go uptown. She was perfectly lovely and her kids were sweet and I rooted for her all the more. Ever since, I sometimes think of her when climbing into a cab. But this year, Pink seemed to be waiting for me any time surface streets were the method of transport. “What About Us,” her lead single from her new album Beautiful Trauma, seemed engineered from the ground up to be played from the radio to a sad sack of shit (me) slumped in the backseat of a taxi. Since the song came out in August, I can’t remember a single time in a hired car of any kind that I wasn’t interrogated by the song’s title question. “What about us?”
Yes, just what about us? The question is met with galactic platitudes and never any real answers. This kind of reflection drives one to examine all the mistakes that led to this moment, alone, stuck in traffic, trying to get the driver to compliment, like, your haircut? Anything at all. And then traffic lets up and the song’s bridge drops in and the polyrhythms banged out on piano by cowriter Steve Mac are more than reminiscent of Jack Antonoff’s production touchstones, leaving a bad taste-by-association in the mouth. I understand the song is meant to be hopeful. But the introductory minor chord and the A-flat root give the inquiry an existential dread. And as the question is asked again and again… and again and again… and again… meaning drains from the phrase. It is, as when said in the dreadful moments of deteriorating relationships, a temporary rhetorical question meant to lead the witness. Look, I understand these are mostly personal issues. But when Pink draws me in to this song—it is, after all, “us” she refers to—I just want to jump from the car and run. — DALE EISINGER